Needham High School students have been holding house parties involving alcohol, according to Paul Richards, the school’s principal, who sent an email reminder to parents Friday morning that student athletes can be suspended from play for 25 percent of their season if they are caught drinking.
“It’s got us gravely concerned,” he said in a phone interview.
Although he said he knew of only two house parties since school started, such gatherings, usually with alcohol served, are regular occurrences in area communities.
“I think most principals would say that house parties on the weekend are fairly regular in their towns,” said Richards. “It’s the social scene.”
Thanks to cell phones, small gatherings often mushroom into large parties as friends find out a classmate’s parents aren’t home, he said.
The email to Needham parents was not in response to recent Newton car accidents involving students who, according to Newton police, had either been drinking or were coming from house parties. Richards said he had not heard about those incidents.
“The principals in the area have talked a lot about drinking,” said Richards. “This fall for whatever reason it started when Lincoln-Sudbury and some other schools took a hard approach toward their Friday night football games.”
He was referring to the first football game of the season at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in September, when one student was hospitalized and several were cited by police or suspended for drinking.
Richards said a student can be suspended for drinking on school property, but with house parties, there is very little the school can do – unless the student is an athlete. Then, a student can lose 25 percent of their season for a first offense, said Richards, even without an arrest. A verbal report from a police officer that a student was drinking is enough for an athletic suspension, he said.
“We have tried as a school to become more proactive and more aware of what’s going on,” said Richards.
-- By Lisa Kocian
Below is the text of the email that Richards sent to parents this morning.
We continue to hear reports during these first two months of school that the Needham police are responding to house parties that involve a large number of Needham High students. Typically, large quantities of alcohol are found on the premises and it is evident that many of the students have been drinking. For those who stayed on the premises, students have been turned over to their parents. Others have been charged.
In some of these cases, a small gathering appeared to quickly get out of hand. At times, we have received telephone reports from neighbors that some of our students were at parties and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol, and were driving as well.
If student-athletes are cited by the police at a weekend party, there is a school sanction through the MIAA which we administer (loss of 25% of the season for first offenses). More importantly, we do not condone this sort of behavior for safety reasons and spend considerable time working with students to help them make good decisions during adolescence. Since many of the students routinely discuss the party scenes at school, there is an excellent opportunity for you to have a conversation at home about your own expectations of them and your concerns for their personal safety. It also serves as a reminder that students may face serious legal consequences in addition to possible suspension from school and after school activities when they consume alcohol illegally.
Deb Engler, Needham's Drug and Alcohol Prevention Coordinator, included the following "keys to prevention" in last year's Student-Parent Directory:
1. Be clear about your expectations.
2. Take a firm stand against the use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs.
3. Teach resistance skills.
4. Reach out to other parents.
5. Provide help.
6. Be proactive.
Thank you for your continued collaboration and support as we try to address this very important issue facing our students.
Principal, Needham High School